I recently arrived at the conclusion that I have a baseline level of absolute needs. These needs must be met before any type of growth or personal development can be achieved or even sought. They are the foundation for the mental and emotional stability that I require to make myself vulnerable or take risks. They are:
1. Keep a robust, balanced, healthy, and nutritious diet. Eat at least three meals a day and eat fruits and vegetables every day.
2. Live within my means. Run a personal budget surplus each month, excepting one-time items.
3. Sleep an average of 8 hours per night. Variance is OK, but try to minimize the standard deviation.
4. Exercise at least 4 days per week.
5. Maintain work / life balance. Spend no more than an average of 9 hours per day in the office. Variance is OK, but remember that it’s more acceptable to work 4 hours more than the average than 4 hours less.
6. Maintain a healthy and active sex life.
These rules are a work in progress, evolving with my changing needs and my recognition of any blind spots I confront while living them out. For example, attempting to further myself professionally, I loaded up my hours in the office, neglecting my personal life and overlooking my need for loving and intimate relationships. That resulted in a feeling of isolation and anxiety which inhibited my ability to focus clearly on my goals and desires otherwise. I added maintenance of a healthy sex life to my list of requirements, dedicated time and effort to it, and my life began to stabilize.
One note on this list is that my default action is to fill my space with work and work-related activities. My tendency is to drift into long hours in the office, often resulting in small marginal gains of productivity. These rules are therefore a balancing act for me, to keep watchful eye on the completeness of my needs, in addition to the need to work hard and keep focus on my work. Those needs therefore go without saying on here for me. That may not be the case for another person.
This list is a result of a checklist of mental health requirements that a friend of mine shared with me months ago. I’ve always assumed that it had its origins in an Alcoholics Anonymous space, given he was an active member of the club and many of his self-regulation tools had their roots there. Whenever he was bothered or upset, doubtful or anxious, or even considering drinking, he asked himself 4 questions:
1. H – Am I Hungry?
2. A – Am I Angry (with another person or thing?)
3. L – Am I Lonely?
4. T – Am I Tired?
It was essentially a sanity check. It’s not bulletproof, but it drives at something deeper for me.
I watched a Christmas Carol with my family yesterday at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton. As Jacob Marley made his initial appearance to Scrooge, the latter refused to believe the ghost was real. He was being haunted, and to defend himself from the torment, he rebutted to himself that the terror was simply a mental trick being played by some physiological factor. “You’re a piece of undercooked beef! You’re an old piece of cheese I should not have eaten!” It seems that in 1843 London, Scrooge was aware that our mental health can be affected by physical factors and that the two can be interconnected.
As I began testing the method for myself, I found a few additions were required to suit my life. I first added a C. C stands for chemically balanced. As a man not in recovery and apt to have fun on weekends, my chemical levels are rarely balanced Friday through Sunday and the imbalance frequently drifts into Monday. If I could recognize that a lack of dopamine or some other neurochemical, caused by a rough Saturday night, was to blame for my Monday cragginess, I could compartmentalize it and not extrapolate the feeling as a sign of impending personal failure. That helped.
I then added F. F stands for financial stability. Am I financially secure? I’m two years out of college, earning essentially an entry level salary, and taking on the financial obligations necessary for self-sufficiency seemingly every day. I live in a nice house in a nice part of the city, I own a car, I pay utilities and insurance and I buy food and gas and furniture and everyday items. Taking a sober look at my finances and understanding where I need to cut is a sometimes-painful activity, but the comfort I can derive by knowing that I am in control of my finances, and that I am beholden to nobody financially is powerful.
Finally, I added another L. L stands for love. Do I feel loved? Do I feel that, if I were to fail today and be in a bad situation, that there would be someone who would still love me?
Without these things, it’s hard to look outside myself. Charity, generosity, and selflessness are traits I seek to build into my life, but they’re difficult to sustain if you cannot first provide for yourself. I’ve come to think that there’s nothing selfish in recognizing that I must come first and that I cannot adequately or sustainably provide for others, especially those that I love, if I am not stable. These cumulative activities, bringing together my physical needs with some basic economic and lifestyle rules, bring me a great deal of stability when implemented accordingly. It’s no surprise that people like me best, and I am happiest and most generous to others, when I have successfully checked all the boxes laid out above. The hope for this list is that the requirements serve as a baseline of self-sufficiency, and do not occupy my whole time. With proper planning, I can chart out meals, workouts, and good sleeps in an hour’s time. I do this – or at least attempt to – on a weekly basis. I can say that the simple requirements listed out above have had a significant, positive impact on my life. With further refinement, I hope that I can push them to the subconscious, and dedicate my active thinking to topics concerning others wellbeing and areas of interest. The true goal is to limit my introspection to a reasonable level and accept that things are OK, and I will be OK.
My reason for sharing this stems from a desire to get my ideas out of my head. This concept isn’t new. Maslow essentially came up with this idea in the 1940s. But it seems to me that I’ve been wrestling with the details for months now, trying to perfect the list, and that just isn’t healthy. I think that this list is strong and sufficient. That’s not to say it can not or will not be improved in the future. That’s my hope with publication. I think that I’ve taken it as far as I can in my own head and can only pass it along for testing and breaking by others with different perspectives.